Millions of pounds are to be spent on a brand refresh for the Government’s National Citizen Service (NCS), despite calls from councils for some of the scheme’s funding to be devolved to plug £300 million cuts to local youth services.
The NCS, a four-week voluntary initiative for 16 and 17 year olds which only a small number of eligible youngsters take part in, is currently tendering for a brand and creative agency partner in a contract worth up to £10 million of government money.
It comes as the Government recently announced a similar amount of funding for local areas to tackle knife crime and gang culture. Last month it pledged £9.8 million for community-backed projects to help turn young people away from crime and gangs, as part of the Supporting Families Against Youth Crime fund.
The Local Government Association, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, says some of the NCS’s budget would be better invested in council-run youth services, which have seen funding more than halved in real terms (52 per cent) since 2010.
Councils have had to reduce spending on local youth services from £652 million in 2010/11 to £352 million in 2017/18 as a result of government funding cuts. The LGA says the Government should devolve money from the NCS to scale back these cuts in this year’s Spending Review.
This comes as more than 600 youth centres have closed and nearly 139,000 youth service places were lost in the UK between 2012 and 2016.
Despite this, the Government has spent £634 million on the NCS – 95 per cent of its youth services budget – between 2014/15 and 2017/18. The Government has also committed £1.2 billion of grant funding for the NCS between 2016 and 2020.
The LGA says the NCS money would be better spent on all-year-round provision for young people in their local areas, rather than a time-limited programme restricted to a certain age group, which in 2017 attracted 98,000 young people, a relatively small proportion of those able to take part.
Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said:
“It is not right that £10 million of government money is to be spent on a brand refresh for the National Citizen Service. This sends the wrong message at a time when councils are being forced to cull vital youth services as a result of government funding cuts.
“We have long-called for some of the funding for the NCS to be devolved to councils to fund youth services.
“While we recognise that the National Citizen Service can be a positive experience for those who take part, funding all-year-round youth services in local communities would be far more effective in reaching out to young people and helping them to thrive and prosper.
“The shocking surge in children and young people tragically involved in knife crime and gang activity only reinforces the need to invest in local youth services to support and work with children and young people to help them stay safe.”